The geography may be wrong and the ingredients might be local, but a taste of the café s food is certainly authentic. Bienvenidos a El Español, the closest you’ll come to the Iberian peninsula without leaving Cairo.
Reda Reda, who shares ownership and managerial duties with the head chef, Conchi del Barrio, (also his mother), is a large part of the café’s charm. Most nights he can be found watching football matches, and rooting for Réal Madrid, one of Spain s leading football teams.
Knocking Barcelona s team in Spanish, Arabic and English; with a Spanish mother and Egyptian father, Reda embodies the heritage of Spain itself, a combination of Arab, Iberian and European influences.
El Español opened as Café Madrid just after Ramadan 2009 in partnership with Lucia Fernandez and Ibrahim El-Kady. Recently Reda and del Barrio acquired full ownership, changing the name from Café Madrid to El Español.
Their initial intention remains the same, however: to produce authentic Spanish food in Cairo in a genuinely Spanish environment. “We wanted to give the image of Spain in Egypt, Reda explains of his vision for opening the café.
And Cairo’s established Hispano scene has responded gratefully. El Español caters and delivers, a fact much appreciated by the Spanish embassy, now a regular customer. The Club de Damas Habla Hispana (Spanish Speaking Ladies Club), and the venerable Institute of Cervantes welcomed the café’s opening with a hearty Olé!
Reda points out that although many of the café’s clientele are of Spanish heritage or seeking a connection with Spain, Egyptians just looking for a tasty bite are likely to be pleased with the familiarity of Spanish food and culture. Like Egyptians, Spaniards love a good time, good food and good friends.
The café doubles as a Spanish cultural center. As the official headquarters of the Cairo branch of the Réal Madrid fan club, El Español shows Spanish football matches on its flat screens several times a week. And as Réal Madrid’s fan club for Egypt, should the team ever visit the country, El Español would be a required visit.
Every month or so artists gather for flamenco night, where several dancers perform to the beat of four live guitarists. After the performers have had their fill of the metaphorical spotlight, the floor is open for all dancers.
Each Friday salsa dancers gather at 7 pm and “dance till they drop, as Reda says. The café s Facebook group keeps a running tally of the two dozen nationalities that have frequented the café since it opened in August 2009. The café’s culture permits experimentation – suggestions of a gaming club and a book club have both been floated – and Reda welcomes any other ideas for using the space.
Although gaming is not a typically Spanish characteristic per se, the willingness to both embrace and integrate various interests and backgrounds reinforces the pluralism that engendered Spain’s heritage.
But in the interest of full disclosure, the real reason we’re here is not the Réal Madrid football match playing on the flat screen, nor the flamenco guitarist strumming outside the door. We’re here for the chocolate con churros.
A traditional Spanish treat that remains relatively unknown outside its country of origin and former colonies, chocolate con churros is fried fingers of dough (churros) dipped in melted chocolate. Apparently, the name churro derives from a Castillian breed of sheep, whose horns resemble fried pastry.
Churros manifest themselves differently across Spain and Latin America, although at El Español they are the type you might find in Madrid: long and thick, the better for scooping up chocolate. If you have read or watched Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, this is chocolate of a caliber that Willy Wonka himself would have envied.
Although the Italians produce hot chocolate of a similar richness, only the Spanish have the gusto to condone the behavior we were all scolded for as children: unabashed dipping. Luckily the atmosphere at El Español exudes enough Mediterranean nonchalance that even inexperienced dippers were soon tucking in.
We’d be negligent to leave out the other tasty dishes on offer, (but we maintain that we’re here for the churros): Spanish omelettes, or eggs with potatoes and veggies, patatas bravas, “brave potatoes or steamed potatoes with hot sauce, salsa or garlic.
The menu offers a sampling of various regions: the empanadas, (Spanish sambusas) for example, are of the kind typically found in Galicia in northwest Spain. And while paella – that celebrated concoction of seafood, meat, chicken and vegetables in savory broth – is enjoyed all over Spain and all year round, the paella recipe here is typical to Valencia, considered the authentic source of paella.
Although in Spain you’d likely wash down your meal with red wine, the café serves no alcohol or shisha, in keeping with its family friendly vibe. Note: family friendly, in this case, is not code for “there are kids all over the place. Although children would be welcome, and would probably love the chocolate con churros, we did not see many. We dropped in around 10 pm midweek, and observed a clientele of young and older adults, conversing in Spanish, Arabic, and at our table, English.
To celebrate Spanish culture, through dance, food or music, is to celebrate Arab culture. Arabs and Moors controlled Spain for centuries. The cities of Córdoba and Granada particularly represented epicenters of science, philosophy and medicine. Although many monuments remain, such as the Cathedral of Córdoba, (formerly a mosque, formerly a Visigoth church), the Muslim rulers were officially expelled in 1492 by catholic Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand.
Despite previous antipathies, recognition of Spain’s debt to Arab culture is in vogue. El Español reflects that trend, only backwards: celebrating Spain in Cairo.
El EspañolBorg 7 DiplomaseyinOsman TowersMaadi, Cairo